2008 Ride(s): No. 00 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota (first five events); No. 44 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota (final 31 events)
2008 Primary Sponsor(s): Aaron’s (No. 00), UPS (No. 44)
2008 Owner(s): Michael Waltrip/Johnny Harris/Robert Kauffman (both cars)
2008 Crew Chief: Ryan Pemberton (both cars)
Stats: 36 races, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 4 top 10s, 1 pole, 22nd in points.
Best Finish: Ninth – twice (Fontana and Richmond – Sept.)
Average Finish: 23.3.
High Point: For David Reutimann, the best race of his season was the hurricane-delayed Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway in September. The sophomore driver got up front via pit strategy, but held his own and remained in the lead while holding off a challenge by Tony Stewart. The No. 44 eventually faded to a ninth place finish late, but Reutimann led a race (and career) high 104 laps before coming up short.
This was just part of a hot streak that the UPS team got on during the second half of the season, as the Richmond run completed Reutimann’s first ever set of back-to-back top 10s. Just one week earlier, he’d finished ninth during the Labor Day Weekend race at Fontana, shipping out the best ever finish for the UPS Toyota in two years under the MWR banner.
Low Point: As well as the season ended for Reutimann, the first couple of weeks replacing Dale Jarrett in the No. 44 went horribly for the sophomore driver. A relatively solid run at Martinsville was ruined by a broken rear end late in the race, dropping him to a 39th place finish in his first race representing UPS. That result ruined the relatively steady first five races of the season that Jarrett drove and dropped the No. 44 out of the Top 35, forcing Reutimann to qualify on speed at Texas. In that race, Reutimann blew an engine and finished 41st, dropping his car even further to a season-low 38th in the owner points standings — 38 points out of 35th. Luckily, a strong 18th place in the Subway Fresh Fit 500K at Phoenix moved the No. 44 back into a “locked in” qualifying spot — and that’s where he would stay for the rest of the season.
Summary: Reutimann knew coming into 2008 that he was going to have to adjust to higher expectations after Bristol in March, as he would be replacing veteran Jarrett behind the wheel of the big-money sponsor UPS Toyota. At least Michael Waltrip Racing made the transition easier on the sophomore driver by allowing crew chief Ryan Pemberton and Co. to make the move to the No. 44 with Reutimann — but to start the season, they’d all be working on the No. 00.
Just qualifying for the first five races of the season in that car was an improvement over 2007 for Reutimann, where he failed to qualify for two of the first five races, crashed out of two more, and finished 40th in the other. These early season runs did their job and set that car up well, giving rookie Michael McDowell a buffer to keep the No. 00 in the Top 35 well into the season.
After recovering from the immediate bad luck streak following a move to the No. 44 at Martinsville, Reutimann came into his own as a solid midfield runner that could take advantage of the errors of others to put him higher up in the running order. This resulted in a slow rise in points throughout the season, peaking at 22nd during the last couple of weeks in the year.
Team Ranking: First among the MWR teams and drivers.
Off-Track News: There were rumors in July that Reutimann would leave MWR for Petty Enterprises’ No. 45 as a replacement for Kyle Petty in 2009. Reutimann coolly disputed the talk, saying, “I feel like I’ll be back [at MWR]. I’m just trying to keep from getting my head kicked in every week.” Considering Petty’s imminent merger, it’s good neither party kicked each other to the curb.
2009 Outlook: For 2009, the pairing of Reutimann and Ryan Pemberton has been broken up, as Pemberton left the team right after the season ended to go work for Team Red Bull. Rodney Childers, former crew chief for the No. 19 GEM Dodge and recently deposed driver Elliott Sadler, will take over the crew chief duties as of Daytona in February.
In addition, UPS left the team at the end of the season to become the new primary sponsor of the No. 6 Ford driven by David Ragan. As a result, Michael Waltrip Racing does not have full sponsorship for the car, now re-numbered No. 00, for the 2009 Cup campaign. Aaron’s has signed on to sponsor the team for 18 races (half of the season), but beyond that, the future is murky for the 38-year-old Reutimann. Some other sponsors have been rumored for the team, including Dow Chemicals and Champion Mortgage (which was on the No. 00 (now No. 47) last season), but nothing official has been signed. That means Reutimann will likely need to tear up the circuit in the first part of the year in order to get his name out there for potential sponsors.
Chemistry between Reutimann, Childers, and spotters will be crucial for the team to be successful enough to gain additional backing. Under these circumstances, the pressure is on during the driver’s third full season on the circuit. If Reutimann can continue his form from the end of last year, it will greatly help his cause to stay in the car long-term. However, if there’s any sort of serious regression, it could be a very long season — or less than a full one for Reutimann.
Prediction: The ban on testing for 2009 means that squads will likely start this season similarly to how they finished 2008. As a result, it is likely that the team will hold station in the 20-25 range for at least the beginning of the year; however, it remains unclear how sponsorship issues will work out. If the economy improves towards midseason, that could be the key more than any other in its search for sponsors to keep Reutimann in the car.
2006 Frontstretch Grade: N/A.
2007 Grade: B-.
2008 Grade: B.